Jodie Newton, Private Client Associate Solicitor at Slater Heelis, reveals what questions you should be asking when making a will

There are some things that most people envisage only doing once in their life: going to school, taking a driving test, getting married, getting divorced… Contrary to popular belief however, making a will isn’t one of them.

You may think that once you’ve formulated your will – appointed your executor, stipulated your expression of wishes and so forth – that it’s done and dusted: case closed.

That’s a common misconception – in reality, wills are less of a one-time thing and more of an ongoing project.

When to update your will

At many of the conventional “life milestones” – having kids, getting a mortgage, experiencing family deaths – it’s definitely worthwhile reviewing your will. In fact, I’d recommend this even without a so-called triggering life event, and encourage you to take stock semi-regularly, at say intervals of two years or so.

This is also key because many salient aspects of a making will often slip peoples’ minds. It can be daunting creating something as consequential as a will, which is why many people shy away from it: indeed, the latest market research revealed that only one in four of the UK population has a will in place.

Talking about wills is still relatively taboo, and it’s completely natural to have many questions when it comes to the process. There are certain things you can look out for however, which should help make it feel more manageable.

Questions to ask when making a will

  • If I have a will, I don’t need to execute a power of attorney or probate, right?

The terms “will”, “probate” and “power of attorney” are often conflated and confused. Many people believe that a will exempts the need for the latter two, but it’s not quite as straightforward as that.

The need for a court-issued probate, which enables someone to effectively step into the deceased’s shoes to manage their assets and property, is determined by banks based on the value of assets held by the deceased. Furthermore, a Grant of probate is always needed when there is property in someone’s sole name.

As for a power of attorney, this is someone who is appointed to make decisions on behalf of someone else while they’re alive but considered incapable of doing so themselves – for example if they have severe mental health issues or dementia. Be aware however, that just because you’ve drafted a will does not mean that you automatically are granted a power of attorney.

They’re easily mixed up, but powers of attorney, grants of probate and wills are all separate legal documents with their own processes.

  • How will my assets be passed on?

It’s important with wills to understand how assets are passed on. People often don’t realise that there are different ways in which bank accounts, properties and so forth can be transferred depending on whose name they are formally under.

  • Can I decide how and when my assets are distributed?

Relationships can be complex, and if you have beneficiaries who have say addiction issues, are going through a divorce, or are bad with money, you may be able to determine how and when these individuals receive money.

This is why being honest and open is so crucial when making a will: the better informed your adviser, the more tailored the advice and ultimately better the outcome they can provide for you and your loved ones.

  • Do I need to appoint a guardian for my child?

It’s important to not overlook, as many often do, the nomination of a guardian for a child – considered by the law as an individual under the age of 18.

  • What should happen to my pets?

Pets, just like humans, can be left behind and should therefore be accounted for. Most commonly, this involves handing over cats and dogs to other family members, but it may also include donating horses to charity or farmyard animals like chickens to a local sanctuary.

  • Do I need to declare if I expect someone to take issue with my will?

Being upfront about whether your will may cause some potential upset – say for instance, if someone has been excluded – can help to ensure a smoother process down the line. Disgruntled individuals can always try to stake a claim, so if your reasoning is laid out clearly then this may help to build understanding if it comes to be considered by a judge.

Making a will a must

Turning eighteen is considered by most people as the “beginning of the rest of your life”. Legally now an adult, it’s a time when you embark on a new adventure: attend University, enter the world of work, travel abroad and so on. It’s therefore no surprise that for many eighteen-year olds, despite the opportunity now being available to them, creating a will doesn’t take pole position in the list of priorities.

But perhaps it should. It’s perfectly understandable to find the prospect of writing a will overwhelming, though I often find this comes down to a lack of knowledge about the process rather than the process itself. Even if you’re still gathering your thoughts on what you would like to happen, it’s much better – for everyone – to start asking those questions, get the ball rolling, and make a will a must.